The Restoration of the Shrine of the Bab

For some time now the Shrine of the Bab on Mount Carmel has been covered in scaffolding and a cover as it undergoes restoration. The work is extensive. The biggest and most visible component is replacing the golden tiles that served as the roof of the superstructure.

But much more is being done. Almost every facet of the building, facade and details are being restored. As well, structural engineer have buttressed the foundation and skeleton to make it earthquake proof.

It was not too long ago that the Archives building was completely restored. The facade of that building had eroded very badly due to the air pollution. Haifa, being an industrial and port city, has corrosive chemicals as well as salt from the sea. Make no mistake, Baha’is pay a very high price for the beautiful buildings and gardens on Mt. Carmel. And we can look forward to ongoing restoration as the expensive but soft marble gets damaged again and again.

The first shows the original building of the shrine with some of the prominent persons responsible for its design and construction:

The second slideshow features some pictures of the current restoration work:

US NSA’s Petition For Rehearing Denied By Court

From a recent update on Baha’is Online I learned that on December 30th 2010, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has denied a petition made by the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States to rehear the the case that was decided against them.

For back ground information on what this entails, please see the previous discussions on this topic:

The only option for the NSA is to accept the decision and to move on, cutting its losses. Or they could file an appeal to the US Supreme Court. The first hurdle in this process is called a certiorari. Going to the Supreme Court isn’t as simple as Hollywood movies or your favorite incarnation of “Law & Order” would have you believe.

To provide some basic legal background here’s an excerpt from wikipedia:

In the United States, certiorari is most often seen as the writ that the Supreme Court of the United States issues to a lower court to review the lower court’s judgment for legal error (reversible error) and review where no appeal is available as a matter of right. Before the Evarts Act, the cases that could reach the Supreme Court were heard as a matter of right, meaning that the Court was required to issue a decision in each of those cases. As the United States expanded in the nineteenth century, the federal judicial system became increasingly strained, with the Supreme Court having a backlog of years. The Act solved these problems by transferring most of the court’s direct appeals to the newly created Circuit Courts of Appeals, whose decisions in those cases would normally be final. The Supreme Court did not completely give up its judiciary authority, however, because it gained the ability to review the decisions of the courts of appeals at its discretion through writ of certiorari.

Since the Judiciary Act of 1925 and the Supreme Court Case Selections Act of 1988, most cases cannot be appealed to the US Supreme Court as a matter of right. A party who wants the Supreme Court to review a decision of a federal or state court files a “petition for writ of certiorari” in the Supreme Court. A “petition” is printed in booklet format and 40 copies are filed with the Court. If the Court grants the petition, the case is scheduled for the filing of briefs and for oral argument.

A minimum of four of the nine Justices are required to grant a writ of certiorari, referred to as the “rule of four”. The court denies the vast majority of petitions and thus leaves the decision of the lower court to stand without review; it takes roughly 80 to 150 cases each term. In the term that was most recently-concluded as of 9 June 2009, for example, 8,241 petitions were filed, with a grant rate of approximately 1.1%

I sincerely hope and pray that rationality returns – even if by a miracle – to the decision making process and this matter is left where it is. It should never have been taken up in the first place since as I’ve mentioned repeatedly, the word “Baha’i” is in the public domain, just as is the word “Christian” or “Jew”. The US justice system does not trample on such an important issue as freedom of speech and freedom of conscience (and religion). So to expect them to side with the US NSA is to make a tragic mistake and to compound what has already been an embarrassing and rather expensive legal adventure.

Note that while based on the pattern of previous petitions there is about a 1% chance of being granted, there are two forms of petitions: in forma pauperis (IFP) which means that the person does not have the necessary funds or paid, that is, non-indigent. For the paid, the historical approval rates are higher, at approximately 4%. The historical IFP approval rates are extremely low at 0.5%. But that is just the beginning. If the petition is granted, what will then take shape is an extremely lengthy and even more expensive legal battle at the highest court.

The filing fee for the certiorari is $300 but the legal fees to prepare a proper petition run from four to five digits. If the US NSA wins the Supreme Court “cert lottery” and the case proceeds, they will actually have lost as the costs could escalate easily into hundreds of thousands of dollars. And there is absolutely no guarantee or assurance that at the end of this all they will not be handed yet another humiliating and costly defeat.

I don’t pretend to know the Will of God nor to be a legal expert but both reason and the law is clear in the matter. Even before the decision was made by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, I wrote that the US NSA had no case whatsoever.

So I hope that the US NSA or whoever at the UHJ/ITC that is calling the shots knows about the importance of cutting your losses. If this were Vegas, it is well past the time to stand… otherwise, this is going to be one very expensive hand of Blackjack.

Otherwise, if the US NSA decides to continue this folly, the petition will join thousands of others in the cert pool. Then the waiting begins to see if it will be among the 1% or so that are accepted. For the legal beagles out there, you may be interested in learning about “certworthiness” a slang term used in legal circles to refer to cases that have at least a chance in being granted a hearing. Among the characteristics that make a petition “certworthy” are:

  • the decision below conflicts with decisions of one or more federal courts of appeals or state courts of last resort on an important issue of federal law
  • the court below decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with rulings of the Supreme Court
  • the court below decided a question of federal law that is so important that the Supreme Court should pass upon it even absent a conflict
  • (a category into which very few grants fall) the court below “so far departed from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings, or sanctioned such a departure by a lower court, as to call for an exercise of this Court’s supervisory power.”

One of the most important elements is to show that the matter is of ‘national importance’. I fail to see how at least four Supreme Court judges will see this matter as such.

The US NSA has 90 days to file a petition. If by April fool’s there is no filing, then we can finally put this sad, sad affair behind us and move on.

Baha’i Faith & Homosexuality: It’s Getting Better

On January 3rd, the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States sent out a letter to the American Baha’i community, quoting parts of a letter from the Universal House of Justice to an individual:

…With respect to your question concerning the position Baha’is are to take regarding homosexuality and civil rights, we have been asked to convey the following.

The purpose of the Faith of Baha’u’llah is the realization of the organic unity of the entire human race, and Baha’is are enjoined to eliminate from their lives all forms of prejudice and to manifest respect towards all. Therefore, to regard those with a homosexual orientation with prejudice or disdain would be against the spirit of the Faith. Furthermore, a Baha’i is exhorted to be “an upholder and defender of the victim of oppression”, and it would be entirely appropriate for a believer to come to the defense of those whose fundamental rights are being denied or violated.
(Letter from the UHJ to an individual, 27 October 2010)

And further in the same letter:

[The Bahai Faith] does not see itself as one among competing social groups and organizations, each vying to establish its particular social agenda. In working for social justice, Baha’is must inevitably distinguish between those dimensions of public issues that are in keeping with the Baha’i Teachings, which they can actively support, and those that are not, which they would neither promote nor necessarily oppose. In connection with issues of concern to homosexuals, the former would be freedom from discrimination and the latter the opportunity for civil marriage.

It seems to me that this letter would indicate that the Baha’i community should now not be publicly supporting or opposing actions such as the anti-gay activities in Uganda in 2007.

Detail of a screenshot from The Guardian with mention of the Baha'is involved in the 2007 rally in Uganda.
Above is a screenshot accessed 6 January 2011.

The article in the Guardian shown in the screenshot above continues, lower on the page:

The rally was organised by the interfaith coalition against homosexuality, an alliance of Christian, Muslim and Bahai organisations.

Continue reading

Egyptians Celebrate World Religion Day Early

Next Sunday, January 16th 2011, is the 3rd Sunday of January and that means that it will be celebrated worldwide as “World Religion Day” by Baha’i communities around the world.

The observance of WRD began in 1950 when a few weeks earlier in December 1949, the NSA of the Baha’is of the United States issued a simple proclamation:

The National Spritiual Assembly has instituted an annual World Religion Day to be observed publicly by the Baha’i communities whenever possible throughout the United States.

So look for events in your local community.

But the Egyptians honored the spirit of World Religion Day a bit early this year.

The Coptic Orthodox Christian church and believers in Egypt have always had a very uneasy and difficult time in Egypt. They have suffered major discrimination and even violence on a regular basis. Last week on New Year’s Eve, they suffered an especially painful attack when a suicide bomber detonated at Saints Church in Alexandria and killed 21 people.

The Muslim community of Egypt responded to a call by prominent liberal minded Egyptian muslims such as Mohamed El-Sawy to rally in support of the beleaguered minority and hold candle light vigils around Coptic churches this Friday during their mass.

In this way, the Muslims proclaimed their solidarity with their Christian brethren and faced terrorism head on, declaring that the attack was not just against the Copts but on Egypt itself. For more, see this article from ahram online.

Of course, as with all extremists, there is more than enough discrimination and violence to go around. The Baha’i community in Egypt has also been battling a very difficult problem for many years. The Baha’is are not only faced with the same discrimination but an even thornier issue.

This being that the Egyptian government would not issue proper government documents to Baha’is because it did not recognize the Baha’i Faith as a religion. This lead to a host of complications for Egyptian Baha’is. There has been some slight shifts in the policy but it is far from resolved. For more details and to keep up with back story and developments, visit the Baha’i Faith in Egypt blog.

To give you an example of the type of froward attitudes faced by Baha’is in Egypt, here is a sample of several clips from Egyptian TV with English subtitles:

The first few minutes of the video features Abd Al-Fattah Al-Sheik, the former president of Al-Azhar. Yes, that Al-Azhar…

Disney Amusement Park Coming to Haifa

Disney World is coming to Haifa, Israel!

Well, sort of.

Walt Disney Company’s investment arm Shamrock Holdings in partnership with the local privately owned firm, New Lineo Cinemas, will build a massive 30,000-square meter Disney amusement park as well as a 25 screen theatre complex and shopping plazas. The project is still in development stages but it is estimated to cost $170 million (600 million shekels) and to be completed by 2013.

The Disney amusement park will be located at a 20 acre empty plot of land adjoining other existing cinemas, but rather far from the Baha’i gardens and shrines (denoted by ‘A’ on the map):

Disney Haifa Location

Click to see larger image

The transition of Haifa from an industrial port city with heavy industries, factories and corrosively bad air quality is gaining pace with this project. Haifa is already famous within Israel for its diverse community of people who live in peaceful coexistence. Hopefully, the transformation will continue and the city will come to reflect economic diversity as well with less pollution causing service businesses like this.

One news report had this amusing quote:

If things go as planned, Haifa’s landmark sites such as the Bahai Temple or the Carmelite cable car could soon be replaced by Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and friends.

Perhaps this might be a good time to remind my dear fellow Baha’is that the point of pilgrimage is not and never has been to Haifa or the surrounding areas. So where is it then?

That, I’m happy to tell you, is “a little known fact”.